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Research Methods- Sociology Revision
Terms in this set (95)
What is Positivism?
Refers to a set of assumptions on how society is organised. Positivists are influenced by natural sciences. They apply science ideas to human behaviour, and argue we should treat humans as objects.
What do positivists argue?
That the social structure of particular societies produce social forces and laws that people have no control over. They say that free will and the ability to make choices are less influential than society's ability to shape human behaviour. They say that individual behaviour is the product of social forces behind an individual, meaning that they are 'puppets of society'
What are patterns and trends?
Patterns refer to the way in which individuals will behave and how they act in a very patterned and similar ways as a result of a social structure. Trends in human behaviour can clearly be seen and catalogued. Human behaviour therefore is very predictable.
Why do positivists take a 'macro' approach to the study of society?
Means that they are mainly concerned with examining the relationships between different parts of the social structure to work out their 'effects' on the behaviour of members of society.
What does reliability mean?
When another sociologist should be able to repeat the research and obtain the same or similar results. Also checks the accuracy of the way the data is gathered.
What does objectivity/value-free mean?
It means that the sociologist should be neutral and not allow their personal bias opinions to be in the survey.
What is representativeness?
Means that people who take part in the survey should have characteristics that are typical of the larger population being studied. They should come from similar socio-economic backgrounds.
What is generalisation?
A sociologist makes generalisations when they can safely conclude what is true of the sample was probably true for the wider population.
What is quantitative data?
Data that is expressed in numerical form, and presented in graphs, tables, bar-charts etc. This data can be observed and compared in order to establish links.
What is validity?
Validity is a concept that refers to whether research findings give a true picture of what is being studied.
What is Durkheim's study of suicide?
Used a positivist scientific approach. Examined 19th century suicide statistics across European societies and he observed three trends. These were that suicide rates remained constant and predictable over time, they remained constant between societies, and they remained constant between social groups within the same society. He concluded that suicidal behaviour was shaped by the nature of the society that the individual belonged.
What is 'egoistic suicide'?
Durkheim argued this was the main type of suicide where it is caused by too much individualism and society fail to integrate particular individuals into society. He thought that religion payed a part in this, as Protestants were more likely to kill themselves over Catholics, due to them having less power.
Why is the sociologist Weber against positivism?
He believes that treating 'humans like objects' is wrong. He argues that Human's are full conscious and aware of social situations, and that they have the free will to make their own choices and decisions. He says objects such as; atoms, elements, plants and animals are not comparable to human beings as they cannot interpret what is happening.
What is interpretivism?
Interpretivists are against positivists. They argue that Human beings are fully conscious and create their own destinies. They believe that society is socially constructed.
What are the 2 crucial social processes?
1. People choose to come together and interact with social groups.
2. Social interaction is only possible if people go about it the same way and take part with the same meaning.
What is Atkinson's study of Coroners and suicide?
It is a critique study towards Durkheim's positivist study. This is because Durkheim's statistics failed to appreciate that they were socially constructed. They are end results of an interaction between friends, relatives, their victim and a coroner whose function is to interpret how people have died and label them. This is what creates a death statistic.
What does the term 'Verstehan' mean which is the term by the interpretivist Weber?
This is a term in which interpretivists use in order to say that we must understand social actions in the way in which participants do, and create an empathetic understanding.
What 5 things are included within interpretivist data?
1. Interpretivist research methods are ethnographic where they try to understand social behaviour and the organisation of societies by going out and talking to people.
2. They believe trusting relationships between people being studied is important in order to get a true picture of their lives
3. Verstehan is important in order to get inside people's heads and understand their subjective experiences objectively.
4. They use qualitative data instead of quantitative.
5. They prefer primary research methods, such as unstructured interviews because they are naturalistic.
What is qualitative data?
It is used to gain an understanding of underlying reasons, opinions, and motivations. It provides insights into the problem or helps to develop ideas or hypotheses for potential quantitative research.
Why are positivists against interpretivists?
- They say that their research is only based on naturally occurring circumstances and that they make no attempt to control possible causes.
-Interpretivist research means that a researcher is always part of the study, which is argued that they may influence behaviour of the individual being researched
-Their research is difficult to replicate
-The qualitative data may be bias from the researcher's prospective.
What does reflexivity mean?
Is a term in response to the criticism of positivists. Is where interpretivists keep diaries of every trial and every stage of their research.
What may these sociologists include within these diaries?
- How power inequalities between the researcher and the research subjects effect the quality of the data.
- How wider structural forces impeached the behaviour of those being researched.
-Mistakes that had been made during the course.
- How the researcher's social background helped to influence them on how the data was collected.
What are the two types of social pneumonia in which interest sociologists in regards to choosing topics?
1. Social problems
2. Sociological problems
What are social problems?
They are aspects of social life that cause harm, misery and anxiety to private individuals or the rest of society. These problems can include; crime, child abuse, domestic violence and suicide.
In a society there are many social institutions that carry out many functions. Sociologists research how they work, and how individuals interact with each other and interpret eachother's actions.
How does sociological research focus on sociological problems?
1. Is descriptive and aims to describe a particular situation
2. Is explanatory and describes a particular social phenomenon e.g (poverty)
3. Is evaluative and asses's the effect of a social policy
Why may some sociologists be interested into carrying out research?
1. They may feel strongly about a type of injustice or inequality
2. May be influenced by what is currently fashionable
What is primary data?
Results from when a sociologist goes into a community with a particular research method and persuades a sample of the group that they are interested in to take part of their research process.
What is secondary data?
Data that has already been collected by people who are not sociologists. They do this with the use of secondary sources such as official statistics.
What are the theoretical factors of research methods?
The research method chosen is usually influenced by if the sociologist is positivist or interpretivist. However some sociologists can ignore this and just choose what is best. These sociologists will be more concerned about the practical factors.
What are the practical factors of research methods?
1. Cost- The choice of research method will depend on how much the funding is in order to keep it secure. If the funding is high, this may help the researcher to employ an interviewing team to carry out a national or longitudinal survey. If funding is low they would not be able to do this.
2. The time available- This can depend on the funding received, because more money can expand time and the thousands of people you can survey.
3. The subject matter of research- Some areas of social life are more accessible than others. Some subject matter is extremely sensitive and a difficult area for people to answer. The nature of the subject matter can therefore effect the researcher's choice of method.
4. The social characteristics of the researchers
What are the ethical factors of research methods?
They are ethical rules which are created by the British Sociological Association when a sociologist chooses which research topic they want to use. They point out that the research subjects are people with rights and so the researcher needs to make sure people who take part will not get exploited or harmed.
What are these ethical rules?
- The research subjects need to be fully aware they are a part of a sociological research project. They need to be informed on the purpose of the project.
-The sociologists should not engage and never lie about the purpose of the project.
- Privacy needs to be safeguarded as much as possible.
-Researchers need to make sure that their behaviour is never illegal or immoral .
-Researchers need to avoid putting themselves in situations which may cause them or the research team in any risk of physical harm.
What is an hypothesis?
An informed guess that the researcher thinks is true, and is then backed up by aims and objectives.
What is operationalisation?
This is the next stage of the research process which breaks down the hypothesis into things that can be observed/measured.
What is the research population?
The group that the sociologist has decided to study.
What is involved in the sampling process?
- Sociologist has a research population, and has to figure out how they are going to access this group.
-A sample has to be chosen from the target population as millions of people will be involved in same groupings
-They should select a sample that is representative as they want to ensure generalisability.
What are the two main sampling techniques?
What is random sampling?
It means that every person in the research population has an equal chance in being involved in the sociologists research. It normally involves the researcher selecting their research subjects from a list of names called 'The Sampling Frame'
What is the sampling frame?
It is a list of names of the research population that the sociologist wishes to research. It is normally organised into 'sampling units' which may be individuals or households. An example of this is the electoral register which is a list of individuals aged 18 and over who are registered to vote.
What is systematic random sampling?
Involves randomly choosing a number between one and ten and picking out every tenth number from that number until the required number is reached. The larger the sample, the more likely this will be representative.
What is stratified random sampling?
Involves dividing the research population into a number of different sampling frames and then using systematic random sampling to select the group that will be involved in the sample.
What is Quota sampling?
The researcher decides how many of each category of person should be included in the sample, however instead of selecting them from random, the researcher goes out looking for the right number of people in each category until the quota is filled.
What are the disadvantages to quota sampling?
-Lacks randomness, and risk of bias can be involved
-Researchers may only stop people who look 'cooperative' meaning it may not be a true representative sample of the rest of the population
What is purposive sampling?
Involves researchers choosing individuals that fit the nature of the research. Occurs when a researcher chooses a particular group or place to study because it is known to be the type that is wanted.
What is opportunity sampling?
It means making the most of the situations or opportunities in which the research population is found. For example; if a researcher was interested in researching African people in the experience of racism, they would not stand in a city centre hoping for some African people to turn up, instead they would visit community centres and churches and ask those present to take part in their research.
What is snowball sampling?
Is often used when a researcher gains difficulty in accessing a certain group as there are no sampling frames available. This technique involves finding an individual who will fit in the research needs, and then asking them to suggest someone else who might be willing to be interviewed. The sample can grow as much as the researcher wants.
What is volunteer sampling?
Sociologists may advertise for research volunteers in magazines, newspapers, or on university noticeboards or the internet.
What is the disadvantage of snowball and volunteer sampling?
They fail to produce representative samples. Those who take part in the sample may not be typical to the research population that the sociologist is interested in.
What are pilot studies?
It is a way in which bias can be discovered. They are small-scale dress rehearsals for the main-research, including a sub-sample of the sample that the main sample that the researcher intends to use. Is useful as it acts as an early warning system for problems that have risen from operationalisation of the hypothesis of choice.
What can pilot studies check in which makes them 'useful'?
- Whether questions are clearly understood and interpreted in the same way
-That the questions do not upset the participants
-That the sampling technique is successful into obtaining the 'right' types of people
-That the interviewing team are well trained
-That the data produced is the kind that is wanted
What is respondent validation?
Is the process by which the sociologist's interpretation of an event is checked with those who took part in the event. Feedback is obtained from the participants about the accuracy of the data and whether the researcher has fairly interpreted their behaviour.
What does a social survey involve?
Involves a systematic collection of mainly quantitative data from a fairly large number of people. Usually obtain the information through questionnaires or structured interviews.
What are longitudinal surveys?
Is where they study the same group of people over a long period of time. They provide us with clear images of changes in attitudes and behaviour over a number of years.
How are longitudinal surveys problematic?
- Respondent may drop out or researchers might lose track of them
-The views of those who remain in the sample may be different to those who have dropped out
-The research team may get too friendly with members of their group, so may lose their objective
-They are expensive
What are questionnaires?
Questionnaires are the main method for gathering data in social surveys. They contain a list of questions written down in advance that are handed or posted to the respondent for self-completion. Some questionnaires can be in magazines or newspapers, however some questionnaires can be turned into interview schedules where the questions are read out and filled in on behalf of the respondent by the interviewer.
What do 'closed' questionnaires include?
Contains a series of questions accompanied by a choice of answers; all the respondent needs to do is to tick the box next to the appropriate answer. This questionnaire produces quantitative data.
What do 'open' questionnaires include?
This is where the respondent is asked to write down what they feel or what they have experienced. They produce qualitative data as it is data that is expressed in the respondents own words.
What are 'semi-structured' questionnaires?
A questionnaire in which tends to use a combination of open and closed questions involved.
What is a self-report and an Attitudinal questionnaire?
- A self-report is a type of questionnaire that lists a number of items or activities and asks the respondent to tick those that they have experienced.
- A attitudinal questionnaire usually asks the respondent on a scale 1-5 whether they subscribe to a particular point of view.
What must be considered when conducting a questionnaire?
The questionnaire must be short as possible as a number of people will feel too lazy to fill it out, the questions need to be asked in a straight-forward manner and the researcher must think carefully about the language used in the question.
What are the weaknesses of questionnaires?
- Questions can be biased
-Many people cannot be bothered to fill them in, therefore the response rates are sometimes low
-Postal questionnaires suffer the worst response rates and can be difficult to motivate people to send them back
-Their criticised by interpretivists for producing data that is low in validity. They also say that there is a danger that the respondent may interpret the question in a different way to the researcher. The sociologist is not present so misunderstanding is likely to occur.
-People like to shape the impression other people have of them, so this may effect the way they answer. They may lie about themselves.
-Interpretivists say that closed questions responses suffer from the 'imposition problem' because they measure what the sociologist feels is important and not the respondent answering the question.
What are the advantages of questionnaires?
- Can be used to reacher larger samples of people as they can be posted to thousands of people
-Postal questionnaires are useful for when the research population is geographically dispersed.
-They are less time consuming and cheaper than other methods
- Useful when sensitive questions are involved especially when they are anonymous
-Ensures that the sociologist has minimum contact with the respondent. The researcher therefore will not influence responses.
-Positivists favour questionnaires as they are high in reliability, and produces lots of statistical data which can be compared and turned into tables, charts and graphs.
What are interviews?
They are generally recorded manually, where the persons response is written down by the researcher, or is tape recorded in order to gain quotes illustrating the point of view of the respondent in order to support a hypothesis. Interviews can be carried out in a public space or in private venues. They are useful when studying areas that are not accessible with other methods, however they are expensive to run especially if there is a large team that need to be recruited.
What are structured interviews?
Involves the researcher reading out a number of closed questions from a questionnaire and ticking boxes or writing down answers from the behalf of the respondent. The interview cannot alternate from questions on the sheet and there is little flexibility in the way the questions can be asked. They cannot add questions. The responses are converted into forms of quantitative data.
What are the strengths of structured interviews?
- Positivists are keen on this method as it is seen to be 'scientific'
-They are conducted quickly as they follow pre-set questions. This means they can interview thousands of people in a short period of time. This increases the possibility of a representative sample.
-Interviewers can explain the aims and objectives meaning this decreases the amount of non-responses
-They have better response rates than questionnaires as the interviewer can return if the respondent is not home.
What are the weaknesses of structured interviews?
- They are not a normal part of daily life, therefore people may answer with suspicion and may answer with false information.
-Interviewer can lead respondents to particular responses through their tone of voice.
-They are inflexible as the questionnaire is made in advance.
-They are unlikely to record the change in people's attitudes over time.
-The 'imposition problem' can be evident
What are the 2 types of secondary data?
1. Official & Unofficial statistics
2. Media products- TV and Radio programmes
What are official statistics?
Numerical data collected by the government, usually gathered through surveys carried out by state agencies. The most commonly available sources of official statistics are those from 'Census' which is a questionnaire carried out by the government every 10 years to the whole population.
What are unofficial statistics?
Quantitative data that is collected by non-government sources such as employers, professional bodies, trade unions, political parties, charities etc.
What are the strengths of statistics?
- Extremely cheap and easy to access, often available on the internet.
-They are usually up-to-date and gives sociologists a contemporary picture of the patterns and trends in human behaviour..
-Positivists see them as 'hard' reliable facts
-Statistical relationships can be identified from comparing official statistics from regularly conducted surveys.
-Often gathered by surveys that involve large representative samples.
- Trends over a period of time can easily be seen
-Often form the basis of hypotheses.
What are the weaknesses of statistics?
- May not represent a complete picture of a social problem that the sociologist is interested in.
-The are open to political abuse; statistics can be manipulated by the government for political advantage.
-They are socially constructed as they do not just appear or happen.
- They tell us very little about human stories or interpretations that underpin them
Why are media products used?
They tell us about the particular society we live in. They will use media products to examine and analyse the values, priorities and concerns of a society at any one point in time.
Why is content analysis used?
Identities how particular social groups or social situations are portrayed in the product being analysed. Usually sociologists design a content analysis schedule which is a list of things they are looking for in the media content in which they record how often the 'thing' occurs.
What are the advantages of content analysis?
- Very cheap, all the sociologist needs to do is buy magazines/newspapers or watch Tv programmes.
- Is a comparative method- can compare media reports over a period of time.
-Quantitative content analysis is regarded as reliable as other sociologists can repeat it.
What are the weaknesses of content analysis?
- Can be very time consuming as media products need to be checked over time
-Can be a very subjective method
-Sociologists who have used it have been accused of analysing text out of context.
-It is not proven that media products have an effect upon their audience.
What is ethnography?
it means writing about the way of life, or culture of social groups. This involves the researcher inserting themselves into the natural setting of the social group being studied and participating in their daily activities. The purpose of this is to describe the lifestyle of a social group in a way that is faithful as possible. This research is favoured by interpretivists as they argue ethnographic methods such as unstructured interviews allow researchers to access the 'lived experience' of particular social groups.
What are unstructured interviews?
Is a guided conversation where the talk is informal but the interviewer plays an active role in that they manage the questions to ensure that the participant keeps to the subject of the research. They do not normally have an interview schedule. Interpretivists say unstructured interviews are ethnographic as it is carried out in the natural setting of the respondent, in where they feel most comfortable.
What are the strengths of unstructured interviews?
-allows the researcher to build a trustworthy relationship with the respondent. This means that the respondent may be more open and say what they really feel.
-Respondents may be more likely to discuss sensitive and painful experiences.
-They are very flexible and the interviewer is not restricted
What are the weaknesses of unstructured interviews?
- Researcher may select material that supports their own views
-The qualitative data is difficult to anaylse because of the sheer volume of material. It is impossible to turn into graphs
-Uses fewer participants than surveys. Participants are less representative of the whole population.
-Are expensive as the training needs to be more specialised.
What are group interviews?
Where an interview talks to a group of people. Can be used with children who may feel threatened in one-to-one adult interviews. The sociologist may believe that a more valid picture will be evident when a group is interviewed together.
What are focus group interviews?
Where participants are encouraged to talk to one another. May involve people getting together to talk about a certain issue rather than giving an answer to a question.
What are semi-structured interviews?
Contain lots of closed questions in order to generate facts but also contain a few open questions. These open questions allow some flexibility to ask for clarification with vague answers. The reliability of these interviews have been questioned because an interviewer might find some individuals need more probing than others. This means every interview is different and is hard to be comparable.
What is observation?
Interpretivists argue that observation is the best ethnographic way of understanding why people behave the way that they do and gives an insight into how people interpret the social world around them. People can be observed in their natural environment, so allows the sociologist to be apart of everyday life.
What is non-participant/direct observation?
Usually involves a researcher sitting and observing an activity. The researcher plays no active role. It is usually structured as it usually has a coded observation schedule that directs what needs to be observed. It is fixed on particular behaviour; other behaviour will be ignored. Is appealing to positivist sociologists because it provides 'facts'. Some people are against this method as it is said to be objective and therefore can be bias on how the researcher interprets the groups behaviour.
What is participant observation?
Involves the sociologist immersing themselves into the lifestyle of the group. This is the main method used by ethnographers as it is research driven from the 'inside'. They join in with the activities of those being studied and share their experiences of social reality. Can be either overt or covert. Overt is the researcher joining in with the activities but some or all of the group know that it is a sociologist, and covert is when the researcher hides the fact that he is doing researcher.
What must the researcher do when inside one of these groups being researched?
-Look and listen and not try to force the pace of the group activity.
-Maintain a balance between being an insider and being an outsider.
What does Marvasti suggest?
That showing interest in a respondents culture can help to establish rapport as people are often flattered by the attention. He also suggests that self-disclosure (telling people about yourself) is another way in which rapport is maintained as it helps to establish trust.
What are the interpretivists views on the strengths of participant observation?
- The researchers sees things through the eyes and actions of the people in the group. The researcher is placed in exactly the same situation as the group under study.
-The closeness to the group can result in Verstehen- where the researcher can empathise with the group.
-Is pointed out that what people say and what people are do are very different.
-What the researcher observes is first-hand and not the product of what he or she finds important.
-Takes place over a long period of time so allows an understanding of the changes in attitudes
-May be the only practical method to use when observing gangs.
-Produces qualitative data about how people interpret the world around them
What are the problems associated with participant observation?
- The presence of the observer may result in the group acting less naturally as they are aware of what is being studied.
- Some observers can get too attached to the group and their observations become biased.
-Involves too narrow of a view as the researcher cannot study the wider social context
-Covert observation can create danger to the sociologist. African- Caribbean sociologist Ken Pryce was murdered when observing drug crime.
What are the practical issues of participant observation?
-Can take months or years and are very expensive projects
-Recording the observations can be a problem, they need to write up observations whilst fresh in their minds
Why are positivists against participant observation?
-They question the reliability as there is no way in finding out whether the observations from the researcher are true
-There is a lack of representativeness as they are not typical 'average' people. The observer cannot be everywhere observing large numbers of people.
-they accuse the studies to be unsystematic and unstructured
-Is said to be too subjective.
What is triangulation?
Is the combining of research methods in order to check the validity of the research findings.
What is methodological pluralism?
Combining of research methods to build up a fuller picture of what is being studied. Involves both primary and secondary methods and both quantitative and qualitative data.
What is a case-study?
A detailed and in-depth examination of one particular case. It might focus on one particular persons life or an organistion. They are useful by looking at a single thing from several angles using several methods.
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